Publishing and bibliography (3): proposal for classifying grey literature

In a previous post, I set out reasons why I believe grey literature will continue to grow in importance:

Why do I say that the importance of grey literature will continue to grow? In part, because it harmonises with developments in publishing, notably the growth of open access (especially within repositories). In part too because governments have become more interested in the impact that the research they sponsor makes beyond the research community itself (notably, in the UK, in the Research Excellence Framework – see its Assessment Framework and Guidance for Submissions). Publishers of grey literature are often strong at getting publications ‘out there’… And also because researchers are under pressure to publish and grey literature is well placed to play a central role in what we might call the ecology of research communication. What I mean by that is that (a) grey literature is itself a form of publication … and (b) grey publications often form stepping-stones towards other more polished or developed forms of publishing…

Yet the use of grey literature continues to be restricted by the difficult of classifying publications. Classification is necessary for effective archiving and hence discovery and retrieval by readers.

The point of this post is to propose a simple classification system.

I suggest that grey literature publications should be classified by the following tripartite system:

  1. Genre. The classification could be based on GreyNet’s classification of document types — ideally simplified into fewer, broader, categories;
  2. Provenance. The classification would indicate the type of publisher – for example, government, intergovernmental organisation, think tank, corporation. non-governmental organisation (NGO);
  3. Format. For example, print, digital, or both.

Thus a publication may be classified as, say, WP-CO-PD to indicate that it’s a white paper, published by a corporation and available in both print and digital formats.


PS Elsewhere I’ve published a short resource to encourage researchers to harness the power of grey literature. It’s available here.


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